Aisles of Love

A Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Easter, Year A

Textual focus: Acts 17:22-31, John 14:15-21
Click here for biblical texts
 

Worship
at many temples,
god of fossil fuel by Shell
money at First National Bank
sugar and fat by Dunkin’ Donuts
country at Washington’s obelisk
buff bodies by LA Fitness
hard to stop
bending the knee
making offering
when so many shrines and their gods beckon
street corner after street corner
mile by mile
IHOP has more Sunday morning worshippers
than St. John’s, First Baptist, and Trinity Lutheran
together
St. Walmart and Holy Costco compete
across town
lines of communicants
approach the check-out altar
awaiting blessing by swipe or insertion.

St. Paul would feel at home,
so many monuments
rise Athens-like,
but Jesus might wonder
if we can pause long enough
to see God in the aisles
or the eyes of credit card curates
or understand the movement
of love through those
who stock shelves
teach aerobics
cook
wait tables and drive-through windows

It takes courage to love
when it’s not on the printed menu
but we are not orphans,
no place no time God is not.
 

About this poem . . . Paul’s commentary and caution to the Athenians, recorded in Acts, speaks from the aversion to idols grounded in the commandment given to Moses.  It is easy to think that it is the Greeks or pagans of long ago who have idols, graven images. But there are many among us today. At the same time, these temples of commerce and more are also human gathering places, and God often shows up—probably is there all the time (as in Athens long ago).

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

The Change We Seek

Written for and Delivered at the
Interfaith Passover Seder
sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace – Metro DC Chapter
at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.
March 19, 2017/5777

I join you tonight as I did last year in prayer and hope,
as a queer Christian minister and theologian/poet,
married to a beautiful Jewish man,
member of Jewish Voice for Peace, Reform Temple,
and an LGBTQI affirming, multi-racial Protestant church,
citizen of this nation that still imprisons Native peoples on reservations
and kills descendants of slaves on the streets
for crimes of living while Red and/or Black,
where plagues of ethnic, gender, religious, bodily, and sexual hates
are often the center of public life,
as they live and grow among some at or near
the pinnacle of national leadership.

We are not alone in taking land, we know its ancient roots
in Torah, and we know countless ones today who
are displaced, unplaced, misplaced, replaced as were hundreds of thousands
in the Nakba, just as we know that second class citizens live
not only in prisons, ghettos, and reservations here
but also on streets and in neighborhoods of Jerusalem,
along with others who are citizens of no country
confined to refugee camps, water-less deserts, and outposts
under constant threat of dislocation, trying to live and breathe
where once they were born and played as children,
and grew to tend their flocks and orchards.

So as we gather in the midst of ugliness, fear, and othering,
we claim our inheritance as people who cherish liberation,
our own and that of others, knowing this day
like all others is made for us to wake up, grow up,
look up, act up, stand up, live up, speak up
so captives go free. 

We gather in an ancient and honorable ritual
celebrating another time when people rose  to be free,
and like them our words, songs, prayers, and food
prepare us and recommit us to march, to resist,
to claim the mantle bequeathed by Moses,
and Esther and Jeremiah, to speak truth to powers,
to say to modern princes: Let the people of Palestine breathe,
end the Occupation of their land, their homes, their minds—
and yes, well-funded overlords,  free yourselves from the tangled webs
you create with ancient enmities and entitlements
creating more war, more chaos, more ugliness, more death.

We seek a new way, a time of milk and honey for all,
when peace and justice glow in and through the golden dome
of God for all the world.  We shall do our part to make it so,
knowing, believing, it is our divinely inspired mission,
to join with many others here and there,
to create the new Jerusalem, the new Israel,
the new Palestine, the new USA,
the new people there and here, everywhere,
no longer living and walking in fear, no longer dispossessed,
no longer forgotten, no longer denied entry, exit, jobs, housing,
life, or dignity for being on the wrong side
of one line, one wall, one gate, one identity, or another.

We pray tonight, whether prayers be traditional
or postmodern, whether they be to the God of our understanding,
or desire spoken in unbelief to ourselves,
or testimony on posters, chants on the streets,
letters to editors and legislators—
we pray however we pray,
because ,
and because I know, and I believe you know,
we are the change we seek.
Amen. Amein. Ameen. Acé, May It Be So.
©Robin Gorsline2017 faithful poetics.net

Shining

Reflection on Transfiguration Sunday, Year A

 

Textual focus: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Click here for biblical texts

 

She began slowly,
so softly we had to quiet ourselves to hear
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
and again, many repetitions
as she mined the word-notes for all their life—

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John
and led them up a high mountain by themselves—

the purity of her contralto
caught us as she moved to Bless the Lord, O my soul,
many more now singing and beginning to stand,
arms in the air, and all that is within me,
bless His holy name, her eyes begin to glisten—

And he was transfigured before them,
and his face shone like the sun,
and his clothes became dazzling white—

her voice stronger, He has done great things
her face begins to glow, bless His holy name—

suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him—

then This Little Light of Mine, almost all of us
on our feet, singing, tears of joy and thanks,
I’m gonna let it shine,
glow spreading face to face—

suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and from the cloud a voice said,
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!”—

I’m gonna let it shine,
bodies swaying
our collective gleam radiating through walls
all the way to heaven and back,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

As the applause and tears and hugs
roll across the sanctuary
the preacher says,
“Jesus told the disciples on that mountain,
‘get up, don’t be afraid,’
meaning living belongs to those who stand
even when it is difficult,
who rise not just in church
but when we come down from holy highs,
Spirit touching us deep as our bones and more,
knowing sacred work begins
when we stand where bodies are needed
to say no to injustice,
yes to justice, or both,
to remind America First, to remind ourselves,
God is first.”

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . To our rationalist eyes and ears, the story of Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop can sound too much like Christian scripture writers trying to outdo, or at least, match the glow of Moses’ face or the divine blessing of Elijah. But such transfiguration, on a more human scale, happens fairly often, at least it seems so to me, when one of those truly holy gospel church moments begins to capture all within hearing distance, when a singer or choir and instrumentalists take us out of the room, certainly out of our seats, and we feel the gleam of heaven’s bright sun and stars not only on us but in us, not only shining on us but glowing out from us. And that is when we can get the courage to go forth and “god” (a wonderful verb) in the world.

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Standing Up in the Hard Places

Reflection in response to Proper 16, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (focus on Luke: 13:10-17)

Click here for biblical texts

The bent over woman stood up straight, praising God,
when Jesus touched her, erasing her long disfigurement,
and people in the synagogue rejoiced.
Scholars agree Jesus did not violate halakhah,
the compilation of Jewish law governing worship,
even as Luke records objection by the synagogue leader.
Rules often help communities to be strong, orderly,
but leaders, not just in synagogues to be sure,
can confuse order they want with order God wants—
not always the same.  When health, liberation, mercy, are at stake,
as then, like now, the rules enabling those outcomes control.
But do really follow those rules all the time?
If we did, would health care and prisons be run for profit,
would anyone be allowed to carry firearms in school,
would we then allow God’s creation to be spoiled by greed,
dictators to fire poison at their people,
officers to shoot Black men just because they can,
Palestinians to be denied their own true homeland?

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vivacolorado.com

It is tempting to leave Jesus back there in synagogue,
upending the claim of power by the leader,
feeling all righteous, critical, about the leader then,
instead of hearing our Lord here and now, saying
about rules of today, Stop! Indeed laying holy hands
on victims of health care and prison profit rules
so they, and more importantly we, can stand straight
and throw off the tyranny keeping them bent down.
And he, then as now, weeping not only over Jerusalem—
but also the earth despoiled by our careless selfishness,
children at risk in school, brave citizens gassed by their own leaders,
our streets war zones where peace officers shoot first, ask later—
he touches us as he touched the crippled woman
so that finally we can take his power, his love, his peace
from the sanctuary where we too often embalm it
into the world that too is bent over, crippled,
crying out in pain, and need.

There is hope, yes, always hope, but its wealth
cannot be shared if we do not follow him in
breaking the rules of oppression and keeping rules that liberate.
Jesus asks us to go to the hard places, and stand up.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem…..The text does not say it, but the synagogue ruler was probably a Pharisee, and it is so easy to poke not only fun but also righteous judgment at them—forgetting our own Pharisaic ways, and our own resort to rules to keep order rather than freedom and liberation. This incident is not intended to be about people long ago so much as it is a caution to us. Can we overcome rules of today—stuff we breathe so much we cannot see its effect, like thinking “for profit” means better care, that authorities must know what they are doing, that guns save lives, that the survival of one people is more important than the survival of another?

 

©RobinGorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published

Don’t Miss the Party!

A Reflection on Proper 11, 9th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Click here for biblical texts
A leaky roof is a fearsome thing for a church
causing not only water damage but spiritual damage too,
as people focus on the building, money and contracts,
possibly forgetting who and what is central;
or maybe the damaged roof signifies a leak elsewhere,
inability to keep all things in balance or a failure
of people to invest enough of themselves to support
the whole church. Of course, Christ is the one foundation,
and the roof a very second-tier thing even though it
is on top, because even if the roof falls in the church remains.

African church leaky roof picssr com
picssr.com

Maybe Jesus is showing Martha just that truth,
suggesting hierarchy of value—it is not that dinner
does not require preparation by us but it cannot replace
or subsume the feeding of our souls. The most important
hour at church is not the potluck nor is the building our center;
indeed, if it is, as it seems to be for some, Jesus, Holy Spirit,
Holy Parent will wonder where and who we are.
And if our focus neglects the poor, the immigrant, the widow,
too, if we feed only ourselves and our friends, then
as Amos says, our feasts, like our roof, may be turned
into mourning as for an only child, our songs into lamentations.

What we want, need, from the Holy One by whatever name
we call, is Presence, as appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre,
so we can greet and offer refreshment, hospitality, listening;
then we can hear what is intended for us, what we need;
but if we focus first or only on the sagging, leaking roof,
we can so easily miss the visit, like Jesus coming to our door
and we mistake him for a door-to-door salesman, saying
“Not today, thank you.” Abraham listened though he doubted
Sarah could bear a son, but the key was his open arms and ears.

It is always that way. Do we welcome unexpected visits,
do we listen even when we have work to do, or do we think
God must conform to our schedule, priority, need, fear?
I know I am so often Martha, and perhaps you, too;
that does not make us bad people, it just means we will miss
the best stuff, we will miss the icing and the cake, ice cream
and candles too, and even the singing, maybe the whole party
which is the gift of God for us all every day without end.
 

About this poem . . . . Jesus’ exchange with Martha always feels uncomfortable to me. I remember that someone has to make dinner, and do the dishes, etc. and it seems easy for Jesus, as a man in a society even more patriarchal than our own, to tell her to stop her chores—if she does not do these things, will the slaves do it,  or will there be no dinner? But then I remember how often I complain about all the work I have to do, and how it becomes an excuse to skip meditation and prayer, and how often the busy-ness of church (and so much else) overwhelms my need to slow down and listen for the still, small voice wanting to break through easy, ordinary resistance.

 

©RobinGorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when the poem is published in any form

Enough Is Enough

Enough is enough calls out the pastor again, again, again,
and the people respond in kind, round by round energy
rising, filling the sanctuary, layers of meaning
from shared history, older ones remembering Jim Crow,
younger ones feeling the endless string of indignities, living while Black,
all knowing that the latest brother gunned while down
could have been their son, their husband, their friend,
brother, neighbor, co-worker, and knowing it is not done,
that after seven years they are amazed the President
of the United States remains alive, while still victim of hate
that spreads across the web, doubting his religion,
even his birth, sure that a Black man cannot be trusted
to do more than loot or sit high in a hazy crack-filled
den or rape bodies of women the haters claim to own.

Alton Sterling
Alton Sterling youtube.com

Anger rises as tears flow, arms reach to heaven
a blend of righteous indignation and sacred supplication,
the preacher only pausing to catch her breath and renew
the claim on anger that can be turned not inward but out
in constructive action to change the world, undo old ways,
stand together even with white folk who love, care, and weep
in recognition of too long silence helping to create what is now
the crucible of death upon death, blood, more blood flowing,
urban rivers of mothers’ tears exposing like Jesus
on the cross the ugliness of humanity mocking God’s creation,
denying Her love that flows nonetheless with their tears.
Today is the day cries the pastor, today is the day
the people reply, we can do something to change this tortured world,
we have in us the power, God’s power since conception in our mothers’
wombs, and it is time to use it to stop the violence, to get the guns
off the streets, train the cops or remove them if they resist
the simple lesson that dark skin is not the enemy but friend,
neighbor, brother, sister, fellow child of the one and only God.

This has been going on a long time—whether we mean hate
or resistance to hate—and the tide keeps turning for love,
then falls back for hate, rolling to and fro, four hundred plus
years of enslavement first of African folk and now the
many descendants of slavers still chained to ugliness oozing
from every pore, spittle splattering what God intends to be hope,
while others use that hope to change direction, marching together
across the lines for justice, mercy, love.  We have had too much hate
and not enough love, so the pastor calls out, Love Is Love,
and the people respond in kind, in love for love, knowing,
believing in their depths, that it is the only power
to defeat hate. But this love must be more than sweet,
this love must overturn tables too, sometimes interrupting regular worship,
driving merchants of hate from sacred precincts, and back alleys and bayous,
by tidal wave upon tidal wave of love rising, cleansing sin
and the stain of sin from twisted white souls
yearning to be free, and bringing precious divine power
to the disinherited also yearning to be free.  
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over me.  

Enough is enough. Love is love.
Love is enough.
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over all.
Today. Now. Here.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .Following a week of agony and anger about the killing of two unarmed black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the killing of police officers in Dallas, and participation at a global church conference at which candidates for church office who are people of color did not generally fare well (with one exception), Rev. Cathy Alexander of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., chose to call congregants together Sunday morning to vent their frustration and anger and pain in order to begin a healing process leading to action. This is my take (and solely mine) on the powerful moments.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form